Picture of a bull from an 1882 reference guide, as found on Flickr

Abattoir Architecture for Evergreen – using the Pets versus Cattle parable

Work very generously sent me on a training course today about a cloud based technology we’re considering deploying.

During the course, the organiser threw a question to the audience about “who can explain what a container does?” and a small number of us ended up talking about Docker (primarily for Linux) and CGroups, and this then turned into a conversation about the exceedingly high rate of changes deployed by Amazon, Etsy and others who have completely embraced microservices and efficient CI/CD pipelines… and then I mentioned the parable of Pets versus Cattle.

The link above points to where the story comes from, but the short version is…

When you get a pet, it comes as a something like a puppy or kitten, you name it, you nurture it, bring it up to live in your household, and when it gets sick, because you’ve made it part of your family, you bring in a vet who nurses it back to health.

When you have cattle, it doesn’t have a name, it has a number, and if it gets sick, you isolate it from the herd and if it doesn’t get better, you take it out back and shoot it, and get a new one.

A large number of the audience either hadn’t heard of the parable, or if they had, hadn’t heard it delivered like this.

We later went on to discuss how this applies in a practical sense, not just in docker or kubernetes containers, but how it could be applied to Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), even down to things like vendor supplied virtual firewalls where you have Infrastructure as Code (IaC).

If, in your environment, you have some service you treat like cattle – perhaps a cluster of firewalls behind a load balancer or a floating IP address and you need to upgrade it (because it isn’t well, or it’s not had the latest set of policy deployed to it). You don’t amend the policy on the boxes in question… No! You stand up a new service using your IaC with the latest policy deployed upon it, and then you would test it (to make sure it’s stood up right), and then once you’re happy it’s ready, you transition your service to the new nodes. Once the connections have drained from your old nodes, you take them out and shoot them.

Or, if you want this in pictures…

Stage 1 - Before the new service deployment
Stage 1 – Before the new service deployment
Stage 2 - The new service deployment is built and tested
Stage 2 – The new service deployment is built and tested
Stage 3 - Service transitions to the new service deployment
Stage 3 – Service transitions to the new service deployment
Stage 4 - The old service is demised, and any resources (including licenses) return to the pool
Stage 4 – The old service is demised, and any resources (including licenses) return to the pool

I was advised (by a very enthusiastic Mike until he realised that I intended to follow through with it) that the name for this should be as per the title. So, the next time someone asks me to explain how they could deploy, I’ll suggest they look for the Abattoir in my blog, because, you know, that’s normal, right? :)

Image credit: Image from page 255 of “Breeder and sportsman” (1882) via Internet Archive Book Image on Flickr

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